A Good Conversation

A conversation is different than a discussion. A discussion is everyone talking about something — “Jane Eyre” or the latest Spoon LP or whether balding men really ought to shave the whole thing or not.

But a conversation is a beast of another sort. A conversation is a relentless back and forth in ever different rhythms — one party holding the floor, followed by a brief interlude, only to surge forth again; then, later, a rapid pitter patter of banter, each urging the other one in a frenetic frenzy of excitement or understanding or revelation; and so it goes, shifting registers, rhythms, tones, and topics.

A conversation demands great generosity. On the one hand, it demands the generosity of listening. And perhaps not just of listening but of assuming that the other person is saying something of value, something worth listening to.

I will admit that most of the time, I am listening to other people — not friends, mind you, not persons vetted by experience — with a bit of hesitation, with imminent or silent judgment or assessment but in any case not with pure openness and generosity. I don’t assume they’ll say something interesting; on the contrary, I assume they’ll say something familiar, boring, cliched.

Now, I may be right and perhaps that is often the case. Still, a good conversation demands generosity, demands that each party assume the best of the other. (The beginnings of conversations — say, at a party — are tenuous affairs, each sniffing out the other for signs of value, signs of a good conversational partner. I tend to use a few different techniques to suss out whether this or that person will give me the conversational goods. Probably, I just come off — or I am — obnoxious and the other person can’t wait to flee.)

But the conversation demands another kind of generosity, too. It demands the generosity of your own lively intellect, your willingness not just to listen to this other person but to take what they give you and move it into new territory. It’s not just a matter of listening but of giving — and giving wholly of yourself.

A conversation is what Deleuze and Guattari might call a bloc of becoming: together, the conversationalists move each other and, in so doing, create something new, a wave of the world emerging through the magic of their mutual generosity. It’s as if the two — conversations are difficult enough between two people; add more and things get exponentially more complex — the two conversing become like a multiheaded beast — not fused but still sharing a common body: the body of the conversation.

A good conversation demands a certain strength — the strength to feel comfortable with someone else; the strength to remain in and of oneself even while being so intent on another; the strength to enter strange, new realms without getting lost. It demands that peculiar posture of poise, leaning neither too far in nor too far back but standing strong while always ready for what may come next.

It is erotic, yes. And musical. It is as physical as it is intellectual, even if seeming to involve only words (as if there such a thing as “only words”).

Oh, man, a good conversation is a rare and beautiful thing. TC mark

image – Son of Groucho

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  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    Do men actually discuss Jane Eyre?  Anytime I even attempt to, the only comments I get are, “Wow, that’s so progressive of you?”  or “He must be a fag.” 

    • http://ethecofem.com Báyron

      I am a man and we could discuss Jane Eyre.  I’ll begin:

      Have you read the book?

    • http://ethecofem.com Báyron

      I am rather disappointed you did not genuinely want to discuss Jane Eyre.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

        Keep calm and Jane Eyre on.

  • http://twitter.com/laundryandri Andri Alexandrou

    A Good Conversation is the opposite of what is found around the table at a family Thanksgiving.

  • http://twitter.com/g_kayy Glenn Kisela

    It’s been too long since I’ve had a really decent conversation with someone. Nowadays, people are too busy clubbing it up to obnoxiously loud music or falling in/on vagina/penis to care about conversation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=606045336 Alexandra Koktsidis

    I like a good conversationalist.

  • Ak9b

    why talk when u can just fuck? 

    • Alasdair

      :/

      What a shallow life you must lead…

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612928768 Samie Rose

        They’ve got a point, though.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent piece. Good text conversations are rare as well. Instead of having the strength and generosity to listen to the other, it has to be a constant push and pull. One cannot listen too long or else she/he ‘ll feel that they’re writing or talking too much (implying disinterest in the other). There would have to be the appropriate ‘mmmms’ and ‘ohs’ without the aid of body language. Sarcasm is also not encouraged since it’s lost in translation and a great part of it is very awkward. But when you do finally have a good text conversation, it’s pretty brilliant.

    I consider myself to be a moderately good conversationalist, anyone? 

    • Ika

      Here! Here!

  • http://www.facebook.com/cjbenton Christophe Benton

    PEOPLE WANT TO HAVE A REAL CONVERSATION BUT IT RARELY HAPPENS! AINT IT WEIRD!

  • Sophia

    This is on-the-dot accurate. You are very perceptive.

  • Jesse

    This is actually one of the best articles I’ve read on TC. Thank you!

  • guest

    Daniel, Why why why does someone who professes to be so neurotically aware write phrases like “frenetic frenzy”? I just wish you would write a bit less goofily. Has there ever been a frenzy that was not frenetic? Well, it would actually be interesting. Tell me about calm frenzies. Don’t tell me about frenetic ones. That’s just dumb.

    • Max Daemin

      While I get your point, do you think there might be a purposeful redundancy here to try an achieve a cartoon-like quality? I wonder if all language is about precision, if there are sometimes other goals. 

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  • lennonchick

    Deleuze and Guittari? You must be a debater.

  • Anonymous

    I really like this. I think a good conversation starts with asking questions, though I find a lot of times people are content to answer my asking, “Well, why do you feel that way?” and rarely return the question. (Self-centered-ness perhaps.)

  • Anonymous

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  • bamaboi

    Conversation is now an unknown art for the average American.

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